LEATHER CARE BASICS
For your new saddle or strap good to last, you must take pride in its care and treat it with the same respect as the craftsman who created it.
Avoid storing your leather in hot, dry areas or in cold, damp places. When cleaning, never soak it in water or apply water directly to it. Instead, use glycerin soap on a clean sponge to wipe the leather. Rinse the sponge often in luke warm water. Change your rinse water frequently. When oiling your leather, do so sparingly. Apply it only when necessary and only to clean, dry leather. Never dip your leather directly into oil.
Caring for your leather like a pro
To determine the best way to take good care of your leather, just answer the following questions: What is the condition of the leather? Is it brand new, relatively clean, or out of a muddy river? Your answers will determine the treatment steps necessary. In general there are 5 steps in caring for your leather product: cleaning, conditioning, buffing, protecting and storing.
For the Care of your Leather, we recommend Leather Therapy.
STEP 1: CLEANING
Each time you use your leather good it will need some kind of cleaning, even if it means just taking off a light layer of dust after a quick ride in the ring. When thoroughly cleaning your leather, first make sure to remove all loose particles simply by wiping it down with a soft towel. A neutral pH cleaner won’t strip leather or dry it out. Use this product lightly every time your tack needs cleaning. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush to clean basket weaving or intricate scrollwork.
STEP 2: CONDITIONING
A good vegetable tanned leather retains natural oils in its fibers, ensuring a rich, supple, strong and long lasting leather product if well cared for. The conditioner’s job is to replenish these essential oils into the structure of the leather fibers. While the leather is still damp, its pores are still open. Apply a light coat to both sides of the leather with a penetrating neutral pH leather conditioner, which duplicates fat liquors and will make leather supple again. IMPORTANT: Do not over-apply conditioners and oils, as leather can only absorb so much before a sticky build-up will clog the leather’s pores.
STEP 3: BUFFING
After the saddle has been cleaned and conditioned, let it dry completely. Then buff it with a clean cloth.
STEP 4: STORING
If you intend to use your tack throughout the winter, keep it covered. Also, don’t forget to periodically condition with a light application of a leather conditioner to prevent molds from forming.
If you are not using your leather tack during the winter, the worst place to store it is in the barn. Bring your tack into the house where it can be stored in a controlled atmosphere – not the basement which can be damp. Clean and condition it thoroughly before storing.
If you have cloth or sheepskin parts on your leather tack, you may want to add a few mothballs to your storage area. However, try to keep the mothballs from touching the leather. One Olympian suggests using cat litter under newspaper to act as a moisture absorber in a trunk or in the tack room.
Wherever you store your leather, make sure you examine it regularly for signs of mold growth. And when you take it out of storage, check it thoroughly before you put it on your horse.
Leather that has dried and cracked could break at any time, creating a potentially dangerous scenario. If you discover any portion of the leather has started to develop cracks, do not take chances – replace those parts.
ADVANCED LEATHER CARE
It is important to point out that leather’s biggest enemy is our own neglect. Sweat, mold, rain, snow, water, sun, dirt and humidity on its own do not damage the leather of your saddle. Chronic carelessness in dealing with these factors can result in definitive loss. On a positive note, these adversaries can be defeated with appropriate attention and efficient care.
Sweat is comprised of sodium, chloride and potassium. If not removed from a saddle, it will result in stains generated by the dried sodium (salt) after the water from the sweat has evaporated. Sweat combined with the leather’s natural oils, attract dirt and bacteria, which can weaken or even destroy leather and stitching from the saddle as well as the hardware.
By nature, barns and stables have poor air circulation and are dark and humid. This is an ideal source for mold formation. Mold that starts on a small area of leather will quickly spread its microscopic spores all over your saddle(s) and other goods in this atmosphere. Wherever you store your saddle, make sure you examine it regularly for signs of mold growth. Wipe it down using a pH neutral soap and a lint-free cloth or sponge. Follow with an application of pH neutral conditioner. We recommend Leather Therapy products, the only EPA approved product that inhibits mold, mildew and odors while conditioning the leather.
RAIN, SNOW AND WATER
Wet leather is not necessarily ruined leather, but without proper treatment it will become permanently damaged. When a saddle gets drenched, water penetrates the leather forming temporary bonds with the oils that lubricate the interior fibers, and then floats those vital oils to the surface as it evaporates. That is why the leather feels stiffer.
The solution to your rainy day ride and its potential damage to your saddle is to take action and get some therapeutic oil back into that wet leather before its fibers completely dry. Wash all dirt, sweat and mud from the wet leather using a neutral leather cleanser. Lightly dry saddle with a clean, soft, dust-free cloth. While the leather is still damp and its pores are still open, apply a light coat of a penetrating neutral pH leather conditioner, which duplicates the fat liquors originally used in the tanning process to make the leather supple and strong.
Capillary action will pull the conditioner down between the fibers. Preventing the problem with an appropriate waterproofing product is much easier. It must be applied to a clean and totally dry surface to be most effective. It forms a microscopic net too fine for water molecules to penetrate but porous enough to allow water vapor to pass through. It creates a unique, flexible coating that protects leather fibers from rain, maintains the breathability of leather, is not slippery, and actually acts to fix dyes in porous suede. Next time you’re caught out in the rain, don’t think of it as the ruining of your tack. Look at it as an opportunity to stop putting off that leather conditioning and waterproofing you’ve meant to do but just have not gotten around to yet.
The same UV rays that can damage our skin induce similar effects to leather. The excessive heat can dry the leather totally, resulting in cracking and peeling.
Mud and dirt mixed with the natural oils coming out of the saddle’s leather create greasy grime which can ultimately start to degrade leather and cause pockets of bacteria and molds to grow. The strong acids encountered in urine and manure can attack the leather and stitching of your saddle causing permanent deterioration.
Low humidity can dry the leathers natural oils and weaken its fibers, resulting in a creation of red rot spots; which is a chemical breakdown of leather fibers. High humidity will result in mold growth. Your saddle should be stored in a humidity level between 30 to 50%.